Pac-12 picks: Must-win games for Cal, Utah and the Washington schools

The Utes take the field during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

The Utes take the field during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

It feels early for elimination games, but it's not early.

Next week, it's October.

From the Hotline's corner of the galaxy, Saturday brings two pairings in the Pac-12 that approach elimination status.

One is early; the other, late.

Both match teams with 1-2 records … teams that have let games slip away … that have lost games they never expected to lose … that are grasping for momentum as the meat of conference play arrives.

Early: Washington State at Utah.

Late: Cal at Washington.

The losers will slide to the periphery of the bowl picture and need five wins in their final eight games to qualify for the postseason.

All four teams still play Oregon.

All four are under more pressure than planned.

All four are inching to the brink.

Last week: 3-4
Season: 13-11
Five-star special: 3-0

All picks against the spread
Lines taken from vegasinsider.com
All times Pacific

Washington State +14 at Utah

Kickoff: 11:30 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: The Hotline deserves endless scorn for whiffing on Charlie Brewer's impact — we thought he could be a mini-Minshew — but the Utes are clearly better off with Cam Rising in command of the offense. Our expectation is that the defense perks up, too, and the result is the first complete game of the season from the Utes. Meanwhile, WSU is reeling from the second-half collapse against USC. Typically, wobbly teams don't find their footing in Salt Lake City. Pick: Utah

UCLA -5.5 at Stanford

Kickoff: 3 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: Stanford returns home after seven consecutive road/neutral games, dating to early in the COVID season. This is arguably the top matchup of the weekend in the conference and indisputably the best UCLA team in years. (The Bruins are finally capable of outplaying Stanford at the line of scrimmage.) It won't match the thriller from 2020, when the Cardinal won in double overtime, but we would be mildly surprised if the outcome is clear with five minutes remaining. Pick: Stanford

Cal +7.5 at Washington

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks

Comment: The Hotline is occasionally fooled (OK, often fooled) by the betting lines, but this makes no sense. Cal's offense and defense are more comparable to Michigan than they are to Montana or Arkansas State, and UW couldn't keep up with the Wolverines. We get that the lines are set to attract money flow on both sides and that the betting public will always lean to Washington at home against any conference foe save Oregon and USC. But this line is too high by two or three points. Pick: Cal

Colorado +14.5 at Arizona State

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU

Comment: The only drama here is whether Colorado's streak of scoreless quarters reaches double digits (it's currently at seven). Assuming the Sun Devils cut the mistakes in half — and to be clear, that would still be a lot of mistakes — they should easily clear the 20-point mark. Is CU capable of more than a few field goals? Only if the Buffs are gifted premium field position. Pick: ASU

Oregon State +12 at USC

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FS1

Comment: This feels like a trap game for the Trojans after their emotional week and spirited victory in the Palouse. Back home, against an opponent that doesn't generate urgency, they're vulnerable to a letdown. Meanwhile, the Beavers are perfectly capable of taking advantage with a running game that averages 194 yards per game. We expect OSU to clear 200 yards on the ground in the Coliseum. Pick: Oregon State

Arizona +29 at Oregon

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN

Comment: How is that not the first-half line? Arizona's only chance to cover is through the back door, with a few fourth-quarter touchdowns against Oregon's fifth-string. Pick: Oregon

Five-star special: Oregon State. The only aspect of this pick that gives us pause is the potential for USC quarterback Jaxson Dart to create a touchdown or two with his legs. Otherwise, the Trojans are in trouble.

Straight-up winners: Utah, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State and Oregon


Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.


Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Jon Wilner

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